Grassroots lobbying disclosure is “dead”, but Lady Justice is no longer blind

Roll Call ($) reports that grassroots lobbying is "dead", but Tony Mauro reports in Legal Times that the very arguments rejected by Congress may be adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roll Call notes:

An effort to force lobbyists who engineer grass-roots contact with Congress to register and report their activities–another hotly contested issue that was killed in committee–will stay dead for the remainder of the debate [on H.R. 2316]. Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), who crafted the proposal, said he decided against giving it another try on the floor after witnessing its resounding defeat in the House Judiciary Committee last week.

Tony Mauro, however, writes:

Forty-nine years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the government may not force advocacy groups to reveal their membership rolls, because of “the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations.”

Now, advocacy groups are grumbling that the high court is about to require them to do exactly what was prohibited in that 1958 ruling, NAACP v. Alabama.

Under a proposed rule change being considered by the Court, any group that files an amicus curiae brief in support of a party in a pending case would be required to state whether “a party is a member of the amicus curiae or made a monetary contribution to the preparation or submission of the brief.” If the Snack Food Association, for example, filed a brief on behalf of Frito-Lay, it would have to tell the Court that Frito-Lay is a member.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has a deep tradition of keeping the identity of its members private, is preparing comments objecting to the rule change, and may be joined by other groups. 

We’re pleased that Rep. Meehan decided not to pursue this unconstitutional proposal any further.  Despite efforts by "reformers" to portray Meehan’s proposal as vastly different than the grassroots disclosure provisions stripped from S.1 earlier this year, in every constitutionally significant way they were identical. 

The House Judiciary Committee’s refusal to incorporate Meehan’s proposal into H.R. 2316 was a well-deserved rebuke to the real "Astroturf" lobbyists, and this latest development is a victory for the First Amendment.

But we wonder about the scope of the latest proposal out of the Supreme Court.  Membership disclosure seems an excessive means of ensuring that parties to the case do not exceed their page limit.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.